Prelude to the Rams

The 49ers are 0-3 and coming off, perhaps, the organization's lowest moment in nearly 27 years. At this point in a season that appears to be going downhill in a hurry, there is only one thing that could possibly help them rescue the season. And here it is: The St. Louis Rams are coming to town.

Although the once-intrastate rivals are now 1,700 miles apart, the Rams are the closest thing the 49ers have to a true rivalry in the NFC West.

And it is obvious that the 49ers need an injection of spirit after their humiliating 34-0 loss to division-leading Seattle last week. In fact, the 49ers can pull into second place in the division with a victory Sunday night at newly named Monster Park - the concrete edifice formerly known as Candlestick.

"The good thing about this game, the Rams game is always a good rivalry," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "It's at home and it's Sunday night. Anytime, whether it's college or the NFL, if you have an opportunity to play on a national stage, it's good for you."

The 49ers are still licking their wounds from their thrashing at the hands of the Seahawks. The 49ers were shut out for the first time since October 1977, a streak that had reached an NFL-record 420 consecutive games, not including 36 playoff games.

"Hopefully we'll be able to gain some momentum," 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young said. "It's not fun to be in the position we're in."

The nucleus of the 49ers' defense has been around since 2000. In fact, players such as linebackers Julian Peterson, Jeff Ulbrich and Jamie Winborn, as well as cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph were drafted to help the 49ers compete against the Rams' all-out aerial passing assault.

The 49ers know all about the Rams' offense, and that is why they are not buying into the thought that Mike Martz's offense has turned one-dimensional. Strong safety Tony Parrish said any team with Marshall Faulk as the featured back is a threat on the ground.

"They might be tilting a little toward the passing game, but in this league you have to run the ball," Parrish said. "That's the way we have to approach it. You have to take care of the run, first and foremost. It doesn't matter who you're playing, that's how you have to approach it."

Another reason the 49ers go into the game thinking the Rams will rely equally on the run and pass is because of Martz's ability to catch opposing defenses off-balance, free safety Ronnie Heard said.

"You just never know what to expect from them," Heard said. "They are always going to show you some wrinkles that you've never before seen. I expect them to do what the Rams do. Marshall Faulk is going to get the ball 20-plus times, running and receiving, and they're going to get Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt involved."

Cornerback Ahmed Plummer, now a seasoned fifth-year professional, took his lumps at the hands of the Rams as a youngster. During one stretch, the Rams beat the 49ers six straight times. Now, the clubs have split the last four meetings.

"This is always been our big game around here," Plummer said. "These young guys are going to find out all the record get thrown out the window when these teams meet."

When asked if this is the kind of game that could springboard the 49ers onto better things this season, Plummer said: "We just need a victory, whoever it may be. We're just hungry for a victory right now."

SERIES HISTORY: 110th meeting. The Rams lead 56-51-2. The Rams have won eight of the last 10 games, dating to 1999, when they snapped the 49ers' 17-game streak in head-to-head meetings. The 49ers have beaten the Rams the last two years in San Francisco.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- LB Derek Smith, who played at Arizona State with the late Pat Tillman, will continue a personal tribute to his former teammate.

Smith was denied in his request to the league office to wear a decal with the No. 40 on his helmet. Tillman died in combat with the U.S. Army Rangers in Afghanistan in April.

Smith, who has worn his hair longer this season in honor of Tillman, had a piece of tape inside his facemask with the No. 40 on it. Only he could see it, therefore not violating NFL uniform regulations.

"It's for my eyes," Smith said. "I'm not going to disrespect the league's decision. I don't agree with it, but you don't want to bite the hands that feeds you."

The league told Smith he would be subject to a $5,000 if he kept the No. 40 decal on his helmet.

--- SS Tony Parrish has never missed an NFL game in his seven-year NFL career. Not only that, he has never missed a start.

Sunday's game will be his 100th consecutive start to begin his career.

"My most injury-riddled season was the first one I had here," Parrish said of the 2002 year. That season he tore ligaments in his left elbow, ligaments in his right thumb and sustained a slightly torn lateral collateral ligament and never missed a game.

"When I hear that I'll be starting my 100th straight game, it makes me think, 'Wow, I've truly been blessed to start every game. I feel better now than I did a couple years ago when I was in the 70 or 80 range."

--- QB Ken Dorsey, who is known for his study habits in the film room, did not exactly have an enjoyable time dissecting the tape of his performance in the 49ers' 34-0 loss to the Seahawks.

"It wasn't a tremendous experience to live through then watch it again," said Dorsey, who threw two interceptions and fumbled twice in the loss. "But it was important to watch and break down exactly what happened and learn from it and make sure it doesn't happen again."

--- Rookie CB Shawntae Spencer made his first NFL start and held up pretty well against the Seahawks. He got beat on some plays, but also broke up two passes. He will enter Sunday's game against the Rams as the third cornerback, with Mike Rumph returning to the starting lineup.

"Shawntae did some really good things," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "He played better than he did (the previous week). He made some plays and he learned some things. He's getting better."

--- Rookie RG Justin Smiley will get another start Sunday against the Rams, and he hopes to learn from the mistakes he made last week in his first NFL start.

"Justin had some good plays and he had some bad plays," coach Dennis Erickson said. "He did some real good things and he got schooled sometimes. Sometimes he's a little over-aggressive in his pass protection and he gets caught off his feet."

Smiley was beaten for a sack by Seattle DT Cedric Woodard, who stripped QB Ken Dorsey of the ball for a turnover.

Said Smiley: "I learned a lot. I took great strides from last week to this week. I've still got a lot to learn, but it's a marathon, not a sprint."

--- The 49ers hope to have many of the signs around their stadium changed to reflect the new name: Monster Park.

The 49ers reached a four-year, $6 million agreement with Monster Cable. Officially, the park will no longer be known as Candlestick.

"It plays well," said David Peart, 49ers vice president of sales and marketing. "Monster Cable has a culture that's very aggressive, really upbeat - they call it 'monster attitude.' We feel the 49ers have had that monster attitude, as well."

BY THE NUMBERS: 20 - The NFL-best streak the 49ers have achieved without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't feel for them, either. What's their record, 1-2? Yeah, so they're not looking too hot, either" - LB Julian Peterson on the Rams certainly not feeling sorry for the 49ers, who are 0-3.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers did absolutely nothing to upgrade their defensive line in the offseason, so the club has been stuck creating a work in progress through the first few weeks of the regular season.

They have relied on castoffs from other NFL clubs to fill the backup positions. The 49ers have five core defensive linemen with NFL experience: DE Andre Carter, DE John Engelberger, DE Brandon Whiting, D. Bryant Young and DT Anthony Adams. Carter has a bulging disc in his back, has missed the last two games and probably will not be able to play this week against the Rams.

After those five players, the organization is just trying to fit pieces together. The 49ers currently have nine defensive linemen on their roster, but they've had 15 different linemen since the final cuts to 53 were made the week of the regular-season opener.

DE Chris Demaree, DE Riddick Parker and DT Josh Shaw played the exhibition season with the 49ers but were released in the days leading up to the first game. DT James Atkins, DE Dennis Johnson and DE Josh Cooper were all signed, then later released. DE Otis Leverette (Chargers) and DT Tony Brown (Dolphins) were both claimed off waivers before the opener, and they have stuck through the first three games. DT Daleroy Stewart was claimed this week from the New York Jets.

The ninth defensive lineman on the roster is DE Andrew Williams, a third-round draft pick last year who appeared in just three games as a rookie. He had a good offseason but sustained a broken right fibula on Aug. 4 and has been slow to heal. The club is hoping he'll be ready to make his season debut Oct. 31 against the Bears.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--- QB Tim Rattay appears to be in good position to return to the starting lineup against the Rams. Rattay's first start of his NFL career came against the Rams last season, as he completed 19 of 29 passes for 236 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 30-10 victory.

--- TE Eric Johnson leads the 49ers with 18 receptions for 185 yards. He is on pace for 96 receptions this season. His best statistical season came in 2001 as a rookie when he caught 40 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns. He missed all of last season with a broken collarbone.

--- P Andy Lee, a rookie, has gotten off to a good start for the 49ers. He has punted 17 times for an average of 41.6 yards. The last time the 49ers had a punter average over 41 yards was in 1998, when Reggie Roby averaged 41.9.

--- LB Jamie Winborn was credited, a couple weeks later, for a sack against the Atlanta Falcons. Winborn is second on the team with two sacks. LB Julian Peterson, who was originally credited with the sack, still leads the team with 2.5 sacks.

--- RB Kevan Barlow has started seven consecutive games and is tied for second in the league with a 5.0-yard average during that time. He is coming off a 22-yard rushing performance, his worst output since becoming the starter. Still, in those seven games, Barlow has rushed for 645 yards and six touchdowns on 129 carries.

--- C Jeremy Newberry has a chance to return this season after undergoing surgery last week to stabilize his kneecap. Coach Dennis Erickson said the matter is simple: If Newberry can play, he'll play. The injury is expected to take approximately two months from which to recover, and Erickson said it won't matter if what the 49ers' record is, if Newberry is available, he'll return to the lineup.


Niners Digest Top Stories